Cervical Cancer Basics – What Women Should Know
Not all cancers are preventable, but one of the best steps that women can take to prevent cervical cancer is to have a Pap test. This is a proven method to detect cancer of the cervix in its early stages. When this type of cancer is detected early enough, then it is almost always treatable and curable.
A Pap test is a way to look for changes in the cervix which might indicate a cancer is growing. If there is cancer developing a Pap test can usually find it early enough for doctors to take action and cure it. Visit with your doctor about how often you should have one performed.
HPV is a common virus that is often the cause to changes in the cervix which may lead to cervical cancer. HPV is the human papilloma virus. HPV infections can lead to cancer of the cervix. There are many types of HPV, some of which cause genital warts, but this information is not about that particular strand of HPV.
The most important thing for women to remember is to have regular Pap tests in order to prevent cancer of the cervix from occurring.
Cancer of the cervix begins in the uterus, that part of the womb that opens to the vagina. The cervix separates the womb from the vagina. Cervix cancer is a rare cancer today because Pap tests are becoming more regular. Pap tests help doctors find changes to the cervix that might lead to cancer. Abnormal Pap test results are common, but it doesn’t mean that cancer is present.
What causes cervix cancer? HPV is the virus which causes cancer of the cervix. HPV is not the same virus as HIV – please don’t confuse the two. We still have much to learn about the HPV virus, though it is not a new virus. HPV is spread through sexual contact. In fact most people who have ever had sex have had HPV at some time during their lives.
HPV is spread through sex and can lead to an infection in the cervix. An HPV infection doesn’t last very long usually because the body is able to effectively fight off the infection. However if the body is not able to eliminate the virus, it may cause cervix cells to change and become precancerous cells. Precancer cells are not cancer cells. Just because cells are changing doesn’t mean they are precancerous, and often changing cells return to normal by themselves. However sometimes precancer cells may turn into cancer if they are not found and treated. But very few HPV infections actually lead to cervical cancer.
Who Is At Risk To Get Cancer Of The Cervix? HPV is very common, so any woman who has ever been sexually active can potentially get cervix cancer. But remember that most women who get HPV do not get cancer of the cervix.
Women who are least likely to get cervical cancer are those who regularly have their Pap tests. However some women are at a greater risk to get cervix cancer. Those at risk are any woman who currently has HPV that doesn’t go away; those who have HIV or AIDS; women who smoke.
Women who don’t regularly have their Pap tests or don’t have them at all have the greatest chance of getting cervix cancer. Even women who are not currently sexually active, but used to be, still have a chance to get cancer of the cervix. Condoms do not provide complete protection against HPV, though they are helpful in protecting against other sexual infections.
There are no obvious symptoms of HPV. Most people will never even know they have HPV unless they have a Pap test that indicates changes in the cervix. There is no treatment for the type of HPV that causes cervix cell changes – no antibiotics or medicines can treat HPV. But there is a HPV vaccine that is effective when given to girls in their early teen years before sexual activity.
Is There A Test For HPV? For women over 30 an HPV test can be done at the same time as the regular Pap test. The most important thing to remember is to have regular Pap tests and visit with your doctor about having an HPV test.